CTBTO Picks Lassina Zerbo as Next Head

Marcus Taylor and Daniel Horner

The member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) last month chose Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso to succeed Tibor Tóth as executive secretary when Tóth’s term expires next year.

After the vote at its headquarters in Vienna, the CTBTO, which is building the monitoring system that would verify compliance with the 1996 treaty banning all nuclear tests, announced the selection in an Oct. 23 press release. Zerbo is currently the director of the CTBTO’s International Data Centre Division, a position he has held since November 2004.

Zerbo is the first non-European to head the CTBTO. Tóth is Hungarian, and his predecessor, Wolfgang Hoffmann, is German.

Of the five candidates (see box), Zerbo was one of two without significant experience as a diplomat, a rare circumstance for someone assuming leadership of a major international organization. Before holding his position with the CTBTO data center, Zerbo worked as a senior geophysicist at a number of mineral companies. He holds degrees in fundamental and applied geology and in geophysics from several universities in France, including a Ph.D. in geophysics from the Université de Paris-Sud.

The executive secretary’s term is four years. Hoffmann and Tóth were elected to two terms. Tóth’s term ends on July 31, 2013.

The CTBTO press release did not provide details of the election, but a former CTBTO official said there was a series of votes, with the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes eliminated in each round. The first three rounds eliminated, in order, Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan of Mongolia, Hein Haak of the Netherlands, and Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, the former official said.

That left Zerbo and Alfredo Alessandro Labbé Villa of Chile. In the fourth round, Zerbo received a majority of the votes, but fell short of the required two-thirds majority, the former official said. At that point, however, Labbé Villa requested that the CTBTO declare Zerbo the winner, the former official said.

Tóth had been “grooming Zerbo, in a way,” by providing him with “a fair amount of visibility,” the former official said. On top of qualifications such as his technical background and his public speaking ability, Zerbo is “from a part of the world that does not serve frequently as head of international organizations,” an important consideration because the position of executive secretary is supposed to rotate among regional groups, the former official said.

In an Oct. 23 press release, the U.S. State Department said Zerbo has displayed the “management skills, technical skills, and diplomatic acumen needed for the position” of executive secretary. In a statement e-mailed to Arms Control Today on Oct. 24, Nils Daag, the permanent representative of Sweden to international organizations in Vienna, said, “We are confident that he will be able to carry on and build on” Tóth’s efforts.

A key part of Zerbo’s job will be to oversee completion of the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System, which is designed to detect nuclear explosions. Of the system’s planned 337 monitoring stations, 272 are now in place, 15 are undergoing testing, 22 are under construction, and 28 are planned.

Another facet of the CTBTO’s mandate is to promote membership in the treaty, which cannot enter into force until a specified group of 44 states, listed in Annex 2 of the pact, ratify the treaty. Eight of those states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—have not done so.

Candidates for CTBTO Executive Secretary

At a meeting last month at its headquarters in Vienna, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) elected Lassina Zerbo as executive secretary. There were five candidates for the position.

  • Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan (Mongolia): Enkhsaikhan has been Mongolia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna since 2008. He is also the chairperson on administration for Working Group A of the CTBTO, which deals with the budget and other administrative issues of the organization.

  • Hein Haak (Netherlands): Haak has been the chairperson on verification for the CTBTO since 2006. He is also the head of the Division of Seismology at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and was a member of the group of scientific experts on the scientific basis for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He represented the Netherlands during negotiations on the CTBT.

  • Libran Cabactulan (Philippines): Cabactulan is the ambassador of the Philippines to the United Nations. He was president of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference and served as assistant secretary for disarmament and nonproliferation in the Department of Foreign Affairs for the Philippines from 2009 to 2010.

  • Alfredo Alessandro Labbé Villa (Chile): Labbé Villa is the permanent representative of Chile to the United Nations in Vienna and the Chilean ambassador to Austria. Prior to his appointment to that post in 2010, he was the director for international and human security in the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  • Lassina Zerbo (Burkina Faso): Zerbo has served as the director of the International Data Centre Division of the CTBTO since 2004. Before that, he held senior positions as a geophysicist for the Anglo American mining company in Africa.—MARCUS TAYLOR